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When I want to freak myself out, “I” think about “me” thinking about having an “I.” The only thing stupider than puppets talking to puppets is a puppet talking to itself.

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Hymns to the Night

Here are some different editions of Novalis' Hymns to the Night:

The first sentence: Before all the wondrous shows of the widespread space around him, what living, sentient thing loves not the all-joyous light, with its colors, its rays and undulations, its gentle omnipresence in the form of the wakening Day? is in praise of the light and the Day when I am expecting to find praise of Night. The opposition between the two will make up the body of this poem.

I dig the sound of the poem and am intending to spend some time in the coming days thinking about its meaning, anyway if I can do so without having it sound too much like I'm writing an essay for my freshman English class. Otherwise I will just focus on the sounds.

Update: In comments, Gary posts his own translation of the poem.

Update: For the sake of completeness, another translation, this one by Henry Morley. (At the very end of the page.) Dick Higgins also has done a translation, but it is not accessible online.

posted evening of Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
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Ran across this at Language Hat. Here's my try at an English version:

What man alive,
endowed with feeling,
does not love, above all the other
wonders of perception
in the great world around him,
the light that delights all men.
(consider its rays and billows,
its colors,
its mellow presence everywhere
all day long).
Just like life's
inmost inspiration,
it animates the enormous world
of wandering stars groups
that float in its blue ocean.
it animates the sparkling stones,
the placid plants
and animals
in all their varieties.
It is a power always on the move--
it animates the multicolored
clouds and breezes---
especially the glorious others
and their feeling eyes,
their swaying gait,
and their resounding mouth.
Like a king
of of the natural world,
it encourages every force
to mutate in numberless ways
and, by its mere presence,
it reveals the glorious wonders
of the earthly world.

I turn my back
on the sanctity, the ineffability,
the secrecy of night---
it is so remote from the world.
How deeply buried, as in a mineshaft,
how desolate, how lonely,
is its stance.
Depths of regrets
resonate the heartstrings
Memories are wiped out.
Young men's desires
The dreams of childhood,
All our long life's
transient joys
and disappointed hopes
come clad in gray clothes
like evening fogs
after the sun
goes down.
The world then is far off
and its varied pleasures too.

There are other worlds
where light beats down
on joyous encampments.
Will it never come back
to its faithful dependents,
to its gardens
to its majestic home?

And yet something bubbles,
cool and refreshing,
promising future ???,
out from under the heart,
and swallows whole
the mild breath of feelings of regret.
Do you also
have a human heart,
You Dark Power?
What are you hiding
under your cloak
that affects me, invisibly, powerfully,
in my soul?
Your terror is only apparent.
Precious balm
drips from your hand,
from the poppy's seedbox
---in sweet inebriation---
you unfurl the weighty wings of emotion.
And you bestow joys on us,
---dark and indescribable,
secretive as you yourself are---
joys that give us
intimations of heaven.

How impoverished and childish
Light seems now
with its flashy ornaments.
How pleasurable and blessed
is daytime's departure.

So that is why
(because night
removes your servants)
you sow
in the immensity of space
the luminous globes
as a sign of your omnipotence,
a promise that you'll be back
whenever you are absent.
More celestial than those flashing stars,
remote as they are,
the eternal eyes appear to us,
the ones which night
has opened inside us.
they see farther
than even the palest
of that countless army of stars.
The need no light
to penetrate the depths
of loving emotion
which fills a higher space
with indescribable feelings of pleasure.

Glory to the queen of the world,
the noble prophetess
of the sacred world,
the nurturer
of divine love.
You are arriving, O Beloved,
(Night is here,
my souls is in rapture)
the earthbound day is done,
and you are mine again.
I look into your deep dark eyes,
see love and bliss and nothing else.

We sink onto night's altar,
the soft repose of sleep,
the covers slip and,
the warm pressure provides the tinder
that starts the fire of the sweet sacrifice's
pure glow.





posted morning of October 21st, 2007 by Gary

Wow -- thanks, Gary. I'll link this from the translation page.

posted afternoon of October 21st, 2007 by Jeremy

How for along is this project? I've only just come across it during a study of Schubert's settings of these poems. I note that Gary's translation is from 2007 -some time ago. Also how do I ACTUALLY make suggestions? Clicking on "make a suggestion" doesn't bring up any place to make it (try the last stanza of the fourth hymn). I am not particularly computer savvy, but I would like to take part. Tell me how, please. Thanks. Also, the"preview" below cuts off the end of lines. I hope it makes sense.

posted morning of July 21st, 2011 by Ben

Hi Ben -- I ended the project a while back because people had stopped contributing and I was getting a lot of spam on the translation pages... You could e-mail me your suggestions and I'll add them in by hand though. Glad to see some renewed interest in this project, I may reopen it for contributions. I'm not quite sure how difficult that would be but I will look into it. Thanks!

posted morning of July 21st, 2011 by Jeremy

Thanks for the reply. I have only just come across this fascinating project. Is what I get the extent of the translation ? If it is, I certainly have some suggestions. Do I get to your email through this blog? or do you have a different address? Excitedly. Ben.

posted afternoon of July 22nd, 2011 by Ben

Great -- I look forward to hearing from you! My email is anacreon at gmail dot com. Yes, the translation that shows up on the project page is as far as I/we got.

posted afternoon of July 22nd, 2011 by Jeremy

I've re-opened the Hymns to Night translation page for suggestions, in a limited way. If the spam starts up again I will try and work out a way of controlling it short of closing the suggestions down.

posted morning of July 23rd, 2011 by Jeremy

Thansk. However, I'd like to ask a few questions:
Must the "new" translation eschew the "thou" forms ?
Are we/you trying to translate the poem parts with the same rhyme and meter as the German?
I, too, am not particularly taken with the translation, but I should like to know what it is that you find unsatisfactory.

posted afternoon of July 23rd, 2011 by Ben

Using "thou" is a possibility certainly. It had not really occurred to me, but it could sound very good. Selectively anyway.

The metered portions of it I find more difficult to "hear" and for that reason I have not had much luck with putting them into English without knowing how it should sound.

posted afternoon of July 23rd, 2011 by Jeremy

Can I suggest "you" in the prose sections and "thou" in the poetry? Just a thought. The prose sections in the translation to the right sound rather eleborately Victorian and latinate. Ben.

posted morning of July 24th, 2011 by Ben

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